Churches of Revelation: Part 7 – Philadelphia
Philadelphia was an interesting city. A little above sea level, there are cliffs behind the city that the modern Turks have named “the inkwells.” In front of the city are vineyards that the poet Virgil wrote about as having the most amazing wine.
The city itself is not very old. It was founded in 189 BC on one of the trade routes. The name “Philadelphia” comes from Attalus II because of his loyalty to his older brother Eumenes II, the king of Lydia. It also went by another name, Decapolis, as it was one of the 10 cities in that area. You can also find on money throughout the area the name “Neo-kaisaria,” which is another name that it went by as well. The name “Philadelphia” is literally translated as “brother lover” and was given because of his great love and loyalty for Attalus II’s brother.
Today the city is known as Ala-shehir, which can loosely be translated as “City of God.”
It was also known as “little Athens” because of the amount of pagan temples and their amazing architecture. The Jews also had a large synagogue in the city.
Its wealth grew as other cities ran into financial problems. Even an earthquake during the reign of Tiberius couldn’t stop this city from growing.
Even today, the city is known as a Christian town. Over one fourth of the residents are Greek Orthodox and a Greek bishop still resides in this town.
So as you can see, this town shows very little exciting history. Other than the earthquake and a brief period in history when Tamerlane took the city in 1403 and built a wall of corpses around the city, the people of Philadelphia have led fairly uneventful lives throughout history.
As with all of the churches in the book of Revelation, they were actual churches but they go beyond the actual church and represent the overall, universal church body. With Philadelphia, just like in Smyrna, we see a church that needs no warning. The church in Philadelphia is a true church.
I don’t know God is giving us a percentage to think about, but in Revelation only 2 out of 7 churches were faithful. That would mean that almost one third of the churches, if this is a direct correlation to modern churches, would be considered true and faithful.
Jesus always starts His letter to the churches by declaring who He is. And He never just comes out and says, “Yo, this is Jesus.” He always starts by giving a piece of His nature as His description. Up until this point, the way He has described Himself has fit with something that was said in chapter 1 of Revelation.
This description that is given is significantly Hebrew in origin and very Old Testament in nature.
Habakkuk 3:3 – God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.
He begins by calling Himself “holy.” In Old Testament times, God is repeatedly referred to as the One who is holy. Throughout much of the Old Testament we see Him being called the Holy One: Isaiah 40:25, Psalm 16:10, Habakkuk 3:3 are just a few examples. He is absolutely pure. No sin. No shame.
If we were to look further into Revelation in 4:8, we see the 4 living creatures repeating something similar to Isaiah 6 by saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” This portion of His character means He is separate from sin. This means He is completely pure.
As we look into the New Testament for some clues as to what this holiness means, we find in Mark 1:23 that even the demons call Him by this. The demon says that Jesus is the “holy One of God.”
In Luke 1 we see that the angel who visited Mary upon the announcement of her pregnancy called Jesus “the holy offspring.” In John 6, Simon Peter calls Jesus “the holy One of God.” Again in Acts 3:14, Peter tells everyone there that they chose a murderer to be released over the holy One.
Jesus, in calling Himself holy, is calling Himself God. Being holy, Jesus is separate from, and can tolerate no, sin. In 1 Peter 1:15, we see that the holy One calls us to be “holy yourselves in all behavior.” And when this holy God looks at these churches in judgment and sees Philadelphia and gives no warning, no rebuke, then this church must be living a holy lifestyle.
1 Peter 1:15 – But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;
Now does this mean that Philadelphia was perfect? That no sin at all came from that city? No, of course not. But it does mean that they were faithful in dealing with any sin as it arose.
After introducing Himself as holy, He says that He is “true.” Throughout all of the Revelation we find the combination of holy and true many times.
Jesus is the author of truth.
In John 14:6 He calls Himself “the Truth.”
And this holy and true Jesus is looking upon the simple Philadelphia church and giving no warning shows that He is true in His judgment.
But there is a second meaning to this word “true.” The word used is “alethinos” which means genuine. This is Jesus telling, through the author John, everyone that He is the true Messiah. There is no one else.
Just imagine how much of an encouragement this must have been to this church! Here you have Jesus who calls Himself by the titles “holy and true” and He finds no fault with this church.
These verses prove that a church today can be like Philadelphia. A church today can be commended by Jesus. A church today can be a holy church.
The next description God gives to this church is the One “who holds the key of David.” Being from the Davidic line shows the messianic nature of Jesus. The key that Jesus is speaking of here is the key that would open the king’s treasure. Jesus wants to pour out His riches to this church. This shows His kingship. Isaiah 22:22 is a great representation of this.
Isaiah 22:22 – I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
The other way to look at this as well would that this key unlocks the house of David, or in other words, the kingdom. Jesus, alone, is the only One who can open the door to the kingdom of heaven. In John 14 Jesus tells us that if you are going to come to the kingdom, you can only do it through Him. And then in John 10 we see that He is the door. Now He is telling us that He holds the key. Whether this means the key to salvation or the key to the messianic kingdom, either way, Jesus holds the key.
Interestingly, in this verse, there were some Jews who were trying to bring this church down. Those same Jews would have denied Christ holding the key of David. We see this in verse 9. He calls out the “synagogue of Satan.” The fact that He used the term “synagogue” shows that this is specifically Jews who were the ones who were teaching false doctrine.
In Revelation 1:18 we see that Jesus holds the keys to “hell and death.” In this chapter He holds the key to life and heaven. Jesus alone holds those keys. Jesus alone can send a person to hell or heaven. Jesus alone can destroy or give life.
John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
But Jesus doesn’t want anyone to perish. He has come to give life. Not only give life, but to give life abundantly.
The final piece of Jesus’ description is given at the end of verse 7, what He opens no one can close and what He closes no one can open. Simply put, what Jesus does, He does. That’s it. He doesn’t go back and change His mind. Here is the omnipotence of Jesus.
But going a step further, I believe this is a call to serve for this church. Jesus is telling this church that He has placed a door before them that no one can close. I believe that He is telling them He has an opportunity for them. Yes, it can easily mean that He is opening the door of the kingdom to them, but if we follow verses 7-9, I believe it can go much deeper.
And I could be overthinking this. I sometimes do that.
But in verse 7 we see that Jesus opens doors that cannot be closed again and closes doors that cannot be opened again. In verse 8, Jesus tells this church He has placed an open door before them. In verse 9, I believe He is telling this church that they will be used for evangelizing to these Jews who are spreading false doctrine.
Revelation 3:9 – I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
Regardless of how we view the doors, the bottom line is that only Jesus can do this. No one else.
Before I speak about the church itself, I want to describe this area a little better. It was in a volcanic area that was, and is, prone to earthquakes. In 17 AD, a big one destroyed both Sardis and Philadelphia. By the time John is writing this letter in the mid-90s, the city was rebuilt.
One way to look at this is that even though the ground shook constantly in Philadelphia, the church stayed strong, stood firm, in their faith.
There is no mention of the church in Philadelphia anywhere else in Scripture. This is its only mention. We don’t know who planted the church. Again we need to look at Acts 19:10 for possible clues, but it is the only clue we have.
This church was not perfect. Humanity is not perfect and churches are made up of imperfect humans following a perfect God imperfectly. But there was nothing that this church was doing that would give them a condemnation.
So there is only commendation.
He starts off by telling them that He knows their deeds. Again, omniscience.
He tells them they have “little strength.” You can read this over and over again and see it two different ways. I see it the second way that I will explain in a minute. The first way to look at this is that you are weak. I don’t believe that is what He is saying here because God would not give a church that has no condemnation weakness. He does not want to see this church failing.
I see this another way. The term used for power is “dunamis.” It is where we get our word “dynamite” from. So I believe He is telling this church that even though they are small, they have influence and power. They just don’t have a lot of people. I believe we can see a similar tie into Luke 12:32.
Luke 12:32 – “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Jesus told His disciples that even though they are small, He would give them the kingdom.
More than likely this group was small in number, possibly even poor based on what we know about the treatment of Christians in Asia Minor. This is a good reminder of Paul’s verses in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where he says he boasts in his weakness so that the power of Christ may be in him.
This small church had the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next, Jesus tells the church they are obedient. They have “kept My Word.” This is reminiscent of John 14:23.
John 14:23 – Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
This church kept His Word. Can you imagine what it would look like if the entire congregation did what the Bible said?
Another thing Jesus tells this church that they have is loyalty. It is interesting that the name Philadelphia came about because the king was loyal to his brother the king of Lydia. And here is a church that is also obedient to their king, Jesus.
Almost in the same breath where Jesus says this church did not deny His Name, He talks about the Jewish synagogue that was most likely persecuting and/or teaching false doctrine about them. This church stuck up for Christ.
This church was small but powerful, obedient, and loyal but He also calls them out for being patient.
A lot of things happen in the day to day life of a ministry or a church. Some people handle adversity with patience and others don’t. This church endured patiently. During the times when it wasn’t easy, this church endured. During the times when the world told them they couldn’t do it, they waited on the Lord to do it.
Matthew 10:22 tell us that we will be hated because of His Name.
Matthew 10:22 – You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
So Jesus is telling this church that they have power. They have obedience. they have loyalty. They have endured. Because of all of this, Jesus is opening up the kingdom. Others may try to close the door, but Jesus is keeping it open for them. He is also giving them this open door to pour out His blessings on them as Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:3.
Ephesians 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
And, as discussed earlier, He opened the door for them to serve. Whenever Paul used the analogy of the door it was meant for service. Look at 2 Corinthians 2:12 for example.
2 Corinthians 2:12 – Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,
Jesus isn’t just going to quiet the “synagogue of Satan,” He is going to have them bow down at the feet of this church so they know how much Jesus has loved them! Bowing down at someone’s feet was done after a battle in ancient culture. The loser would bow down in humility to the winner.
So the church of Philadelphia endured patiently, obeyed, showed power, and was loyal and because of it, Jesus is going to withhold testing from them. Jesus is saying that all future tests of faith will be withheld because they have shown themselves approved by Him. We don’t know the extent by which Jesus will spare them of the testing, but the promise itself is amazing! I believe this is an eschatological testing that He is sparing them from.
Revelation 3:10 – Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
So whatever tests, it is a future test that He is sparing them from. Next, this is a limited duration test. He calls it the “hour of testing.” Finally, this test is going to reveal character. The Greek word is “pierasmos” which is a trial. Trials are used to reveal or expose who you really are. And this is for everyone on the earth!
This is the final test that will expose all unbelievers. By this time, the true church has been spared. So this final test that Jesus is speaking of will be something that will have no believers as a part of it. Matthew 24:13 gives us insight into this as well.
Matthew 24:13 – but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
In verse 11 Jesus is telling this church to endure a little while longer. God secures us by giving us a persevering faith. And that is the encouragement He is giving to this church here. He wants them to persevere so that no one takes their “crown.”
What is this crown?
This is the crown of eternal, glorious, righteous life.
Then finally we get to verse 12 and 13. Jesus is telling this church that to those who overcome that they will become a “pillar” in the temple of God and they will have written on their spiritual skin the name of God and the holy city.
Who are the overcomers?
1 John 5:5 – Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
What does Jesus mean by “pillar?” in temples, the pillars are used to stabilize the structure. On them, in many temples, they would carve images of deities out of honor. Now, I am not sure that they would be carved into the temple structure, but it could mean that they will be given a seat of honor at the temple.
Not only that, but they will have eternal citizenship in the holy city.
For short letters to the churches they are jammed with a lot of information from throughout the entire Bible. There is one more city to go, Laodicea. And that will conclude our study on the churches of Revelation.